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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Travel Tunes - Week 33

On our trip to Yellowstone a few years ago, we went to the Gallatin County Fair in Bozeman, Montana.  While we were there, we took in a show by a husband and wife country duo who put on a great show.  At one point, the husband said they got a lot of requests to sing El Paso but complained that the song was too long so he was able to get the complete song into a 30 second version.  They started playing and he sang these lyrics: "Down in the West Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love, I got shot, and I died..." 

End of song.

Funny bit, and yes, it does give you pretty much the whole story in one line but the original version is worth listening to, all 5 minutes and 2 seconds of it.

Marty Robbins was born in Glendale, Arizona in 1925.  This is a suburb to the west of Phoenix, better known as the location of the Cardinals new football stadium that's shaped like a rattlesnake.  A product of a broken and disfunctional family, Robbins found comfort hanging with his grandfather and listening to his stories of the old west. 

He went into the navy in World War II and was stationed in the Pacific where he learned to play the guitar and loved Hawaiian music.  After the war, he played gigs around Phoenix which netted him a local TV show.  Success soon followed and he went on to the Grand Ole Opry and a long career in country music.

Robbins also raced and drove in 35 NASCAR races, including 6 top ten finishes, one of which was the 1973 Daytona 500.  He also dabbled in acting and his last film appearance was in Clint Eastwood's Honkytonk Man.  He died of cardiac arrest in December of 1982 at the age of 57.

In the tradition of Sons of the Pioneers, Robbins was one of the best balladeers to come along.  He covered other writers tunes, such as the classic cowboy ballad Cool Water and A Hundred And Sixty Acres, but wrote a few classics of his own such as Big Iron and, of course, El Paso, which he recorded for his 1959 album Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs.

El Paso is the story of the cowboy who comes into a cantina in the title town and falls in love with a Mexican girl...I certainly can relate to that.  When another man makes move on his beloved Felina, the cowboy shoots him dead and flees the law.  Hiding out in New Mexico, the cowboy realizes his heartache is worse than death so he heads back to El Paso to find his Felina.  He is spotted and a posse goes out to stop him.  He is shot and dies in Felina's arms.

What makes the song so good is the Spanish guitar work and Robbins lyrics: "I Challenged his right for the love of this maiden.  Down went his hand for the gun that he wore. My challenge was answered in less than a heart-beat; The handsome young stranger lay dead on the floor.  Just for a moment I stood there in silence, Shocked by the foul evil deed I had done," "I see the white puff of smoke from the rifle, I feel the bullet go deep in my chest," "from out of nowhere, Felina has found me...cradled in two loving arms that I'll die for, one little kiss and Felina good bye."

You're going to find yourself driving across a desert someday and this, along with Cool Water, Riders In The Sky, and Desert Skies should be mandatory on your playlist.  Give it a whirl and see if you don't get caught up in the cowboy's sad story.

Below is a video, I think from the 1967 film Road to Nashville but I'm not sure, where Robbins ends the movie with a full rendition of the song.  Enjoy!
-Darryl

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